Tahoe's Environmental Dilema: Build Green or Not at All?

Developer Roger Wittenburg and the hotel he wants to tear down. Photo credit: Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee

The city of Crystal Bay, Nevada, a quaint town on Lake Tahoe's northern shore, has become the ideological battleground for local environmentalists: Can they really support the development of a behemoth new 16 acre, 300 room casino resort just because it's 'eco-friendly'? Despite the proposed resort's claims that it would reduce the region's carbon footprint and help lower sediment flow into the lake, opponents of the project site an increase in pollution from traffic, and the likelihood that the resort will cause a new wave of urbanization, as making the idea net negative for a nature area already reeling from the effects of global warming. Still, others are asking: If we can't support this, what can we support?The proposed 'eco-friendly' resort, spearheaded by developer Roger Wittenburg, calls for the demolition of the 63 year-old Biltmore Hotel and Casino that's occupying the lot now. In its place, the large hotel would be built, along with 59 condominiums, a health and wellness center, 20,000 square feet of restaurants and shops--and of course, a place to gamble. Whether or not Wittenburg is environmentally conscious at heart, or if he just knows how to appeal to those in the community who are, his project is winning some support from the usually development-weary locals.

According to The Sacramento Bee, supporters of the new resort consider its environmental sensitivity and tourist draw a step forward for a region that holds sacred its natural beauty, but relies heavily on tourism. Among the innovations that the resort will boast are seeded roofs to filter rainwater, irrigation and toilets fed by snowmelt, a deck made of material derived from plastic bags and sawdust, as well as its own underground water treatment facility.

"If we can't as a community support good, sustainable, proper, smart redevelopment of old areas, then what do we support?" says Art Chapman, president of JMA Ventures, which owns several ski resorts in the area.

Is the Resort too Big for its Own Good?
However, the proposed resort it not without its critics.

While nearly all environmentalists groups prefer new development replace aging facilities, the biggest problem most people have is with the proposed location of the new resort, which is several miles from the major ski slopes and other attractions. A concern is the increase in traffic and pollution caused by tourists driving from the resort to other places on the lake.

Another aspect drawing contention is the proposed resort's expansive size, which critics see as one step towards big developers grabbing up all available privately-owned real estate. The sour taste from the Tahoe development boom of the 60s and 70s, which some longtime residents felt ruined the area, seems to still linger even when it comes to new eco-friendly projects. Just in the last 10 years, the League to Save Lake Tahoe managed to halt the development of two similar projects, both which touted being environmentally sensitive.

Try as they might, the push for development along Lake Tahoe just may be a juggernaut too powerful to stop entirely. And while it may be a short-lived 'breath of fresh air' for the region, there is something reassuring about real-estate developers in the area not being concerned about only one type of 'green.'

More on Eco Resorts
Renewable Energy Powered Eco-Resort Planned by Richard Brannson, Greenest Eco Resort in the World Coming to California?, Is This Really an Eco-Resort? If You're Asking Questions, Maybe Not

Tags: Environmental Footprint | Nevada | Tourism | Water Conservation

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